Disgusted With Donald Trump? Do This
Posted July 21, 2018 12:21 p.m. EDT
We got it wrong in 2016. We can get it right in 2018. There’s a far side to this American disgrace, a way to contain the damage, and it’s both utterly straightforward and entirely effective.
It’s called voting. And from now until Nov. 6, we must stay fanatically focused on that — on registering voters, turning them out, directing money to the right candidates, donating time in the right places.
The moral of the Helsinki freak show, the NATO tragicomedy and the children in cages near the border isn’t just that Donald Trump lacks any discernible conscience, real regard for this country or mature appreciation of history and our exalted part in it. It’s that this next election matters — immeasurably.
There’s no hyperbole in the frequent assertion that it’s the most important midterm in a generation. And those of us rightly appalled by this president must devote as much energy to giving Democrats control of at least one chamber of Congress — and the ability to restrain him — as to finding fresh methods for mocking him. A blimp in a diaper is a hoot. A legislature with its foot on his throat is an insurance policy.
We can’t lose sight of that, but in all our fury and feelings of helplessness, we sometimes do. Too many people spend too much of themselves on the shouting and save too little for the plotting, and Trump does his best to leave us morally wiped out. He’s a steamroller. But if we hang in there, we don’t have to be flattened.
My plea isn’t a partisan one, nor am I romanticizing the Democratic Party, which has problems galore. I’m recognizing that when it comes to baby-sitting this president, the Republican Party is a lost cause. Sure, congressional Republicans discovered a few stray vertebrae of backbone over the past few days; there was some scowling from Mitch McConnell and faint mewling from Paul Ryan. But Trump could put a babushka on the Statue of Liberty and those two would find a way to look to the side, or they’d pronounce her prettier than ever.
That’s because they read polls, including an astonishing one that SurveyMonkey just did for Axios. It revealed that 79 percent of Republicans approved of Trump’s sycophantic performance at the news conference with Vladimir Putin, while 85 percent deem the investigation of Russian intrusion into our elections a distraction. They bear less and less resemblance to the followers of a coherent ideology and more and more to the members of a cult. That word is gaining currency in our political discourse for excellent reason.
Congressional Republicans have decided that to cross Trump is to commit suicide. They need to be convinced that not crossing him is as fatal a course. That’s what a big-enough blue wave would do, and that’s why once loyal Republicans who cannot abide him — columnist George Will, for one prominent example — have gone from chastising the Republican Party to cheerleading for the Democratic Party and urging Americans to support it in November. It’s the last resort.
I’m anxious. That’s partly my nature, partly the stakes and partly the fact that Trump prevailed over deep disgust with him before. I don’t believe, nor see any evidence, that more Americans wanted him as our president than wanted Hillary Clinton. But roughly 40 percent of Americans who were eligible to vote didn’t. Clinton was much preferred by the youngest voters, ages 18 to 29. But fewer than 1 in 2 of them cast a ballot.
And Trump won the presidency because of about 78,000 ballots in three states. A nation’s direction can hinge on a margin that small. Every vote counts.
Every voter counts, too. The Democratic Party and such Democrat-allied groups as Swing Left and Indivisible are using MobilizeAmerica software and other sophisticated digital tools to send that message, recruit volunteers and channel them toward where they’ll make the most difference.
For instance, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s website allows a visitor to plug in his or her address, locate the nearest House districts that are up for grabs and learn how to help the Democratic candidates there. It doesn’t just solicit donations. It also lists phone-bank shifts that aren’t fully staffed.
“We’re basically arming people,” Dan Sena, the DCCC’s executive director, told me. He stressed that living outside a swing district “doesn’t mean you don’t have a role in taking back the House.” Making phone calls or sending mail may be more tedious than fashioning cheeky social-media posts that circulate among friends and preach to the choir. It may also be more impactful.
A few days ago Michelle Obama announced that her main contribution to the midterms will be building voter turnout. She understands that there’s a lot of speechifying already and it takes us only so far. Numbers decide our fate — and Trump’s.
Some of those numbers look good. In the second quarter of 2018, about 55 Democratic candidates for the House raised more money than the Republican incumbents they’re challenging.
But not all of the primaries this year have yielded the kind of turnout that Democrats had hoped for; a few suggested that Republicans’ engagement is every bit as strong as Democrats’.
“We do have some concerns,” Sena said. It’s time, after this wretched and stupefying past week, to allay them.
Does our discipline rise to the level of our anger? Does our will? A large-enough showing by voters opposed to Trump would overcome the forces of gerrymandering and overwhelm the Koch brothers. The fight may not be fair, but its outcome isn’t foreordained. There’s a chance here — an excellent one — to establish a check on the president’s worst impulses and a limit to the harm he’s doing. But we have to seize it.
We can’t count on Robert Mueller, the special counsel, because we don’t know what he’ll ultimately report or whether, after the perfervid campaign to discredit him, it will stick to Trump. But elections do stick. Ask Hillary Clinton.
To blunt Trump’s attack on our democracy, we have to use our democracy. We can restore faith in it by showing faith in it. For all its corruptions and imperfections, it still gives us a power — through our ballots — that exceeds even the most power-hungry president’s.
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